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Your Tuesday Briefing


In a wrenchingly familiar cycle, nations reacted yesterday to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the piecemeal fashion that has defined — and hobbled — the pandemic response all along. Little is known about the variant beyond its large number of mutations.

Countries imposed travel restrictions and vaccine mandates, and some called on vaccinated people to receive booster shots. The W.H.O. has warned that the risk posed by Omicron is “very high,” though it will be weeks before scientists know whether it is more contagious, whether it causes more serious illness and how it responds to vaccines.

Experts warned that the variant would reach every part of the world, if it hadn’t already. Top world leaders insisted that they understood this, but that their decisions reflected political considerations as they pointed to a need to buy time for their citizens.

European response: The region acted in unusual concert in halting travel from southern Africa, speeding up booster shots and adjusting or reconsidering restrictions.

Albert Yuma Mulimbi is a longtime power broker in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the chairman of Gécamines, a government agency that works with international mining companies. Though he professes to want to turn the country into a reliable supplier of cobalt, he has been accused of helping to divert billions in revenues from the state-owned mining enterprise.

Top U.S. State Department officials have tried to force him out of the mining agency and have pushed for him to be put on a sanctions list, arguing that he has abused his position for years to enrich friends and allies. But Yuma denies any wrongdoing and is waging an elaborate lobbying and legal campaign to clear his name internationally and locally.

His grip on the mining industry has complicated Congo’s effort to attract new Western investors and secure its place in the clean-energy revolution. Cobalt is a critical metal in electrical vehicles but one with a reputation for high prices and perilous mining conditions.

Corrective steps: To begin to address the human rights issues at Gécamines, officials in Congo have created a subsidiary to try to curtail the haphazard methods used by the miners, improve safety and stop child labor, which is already illegal. Yuma is at the center of these reforms.

Quotable: Yuma hired George Denison, who had worked for President Gerald Ford, to help him with his lobbying efforts. Denison quit after he became concerned that he might be unknowingly participating in a money-laundering scheme. “He’s a huge crook,” Denison said.

The Pentagon chief ordered a new high-level investigation into a U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 that killed dozens of women and children. The decision comes after a Times investigation this month that described allegations that top officers and civilian officials had sought to conceal the casualties from the airstrike.

Over 90 days, the investigation will examine the strike, which was carried out by a shadowy Special Operations unit called Task Force 9, as well as the military’s initial inquiries into the strike.

The Times investigation showed that the death toll of the strike — 80 people — was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the bombing as a possible war crime that required an investigation. The Defense Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.

Context: The attack, which took place near the Syrian town of Baghuz on March 18, 2019, was among the largest episodes of civilian casualties in the yearslong war against Islamic State fighters, but the U.S. military had never publicly acknowledged it.

Is choosing winners — and, therefore, losers — in mountaineering a bad idea? Elite alpine climbing already feels perilous; its practitioners’ dying is a matter of course. But does handing out awards like the Piolet d’Or, the sport’s top prize, reinforce an unhealthy culture of risk in what is already a potentially deadly pursuit?

U.S. copyright law seeks to protect “original works of authorship” by barring the unauthorized copying of all kinds of creative material: sheet music, poetry, architectural works, paintings and even computer software.

But recipes are much harder to protect, Priya Krishna reports for The Times. This is a reason they frequently reappear, often word for word, in one book or blog after another. And for cookbook writers who believe that their work has been plagiarized, there are few options beyond confronting the offender or airing their grievances online.

It was noteworthy, then, when in October, the cookbook “Makan,” by the British chef Elizabeth Haigh, was pulled from circulation after it was found to have the same recipes — and personal recollections — as those included in the 2012 cookbook “Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen.”

The episode reinvigorated a debate about recipe ownership, leaving many writers and editors wondering how they can — or even if they should — protect their work in a genre that’s all about building on what came before.

Read more about recipe copyright.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. The Times Book Review is announcing the 10 best books of 2021 in a live event for subscribers at 9 a.m. E.S.T./2 p.m. G.M.T. today.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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